Saturday, June 10, 2017

Radish Wisdom for the Ages

I've never been able to get too excited about radishes. They're something I've always grown. I always plant them in the rows with the carrot seeds, because the radishes are ready way before the carrots, and pulling them out helps to space out the carrots. The efficiency of this appeals to me.

Also, I do like that radishes come up so fast. Radishes and arugula are always the first two things to eat out of my spring garden, which makes them somewhat exciting.

But only somewhat.

I could never really figure out a way to eat large quantities of radishes. I don't eat them straight, because I find them too peppery. They're fine in salad, but there really isn't a lot of lettuce yet when the radishes are ready. And anyway, that only uses up a few radishes.

But this year, I've cracked the radish code.

Pickle them.

Specifically, I pickle them using this recipe, but with about half a teaspoon of salt added. All I have to do is put all the ingredients in a wide-mouth pint jar, shake it up to dissolve the sugar and salt, then add in the sliced radishes. Sometimes I add in very thin carrot or cucumber sticks too. Whatever fills up the jar. Then they just sit for awhile.

The cucumbers and carrots are really good in the brine, but the radishes are excellent. The sugar tames the spiciness of the radishes and makes them taste just like slightly sweet pickles.

Plus, look how pretty. In pink, no less.

I can use the same brine for two batches before it gets too diluted and I need to make fresh brine.

The kids love them, and I really like having some kind of vegetable on hand that they can be counted on to eat every time. You know, for those times when we have a vegetable for dinner that they're really not okay with eating. Like radish greens.

Which brings me to the next discovery.

I was never able to deal satisfactorily with the secondary harvest of the radish tops. I would take off the greens and store them in the refrigerator. Then I would be uninspired to actually wash them and cook them, so they would invariably yellow and get thrown away in a few days.

What a waste.

This is my new plan for radish harvests. When I bring in the radishes, I dump them directly in the sink, all intact, and soak the dirt away. I usually have to drain and refill the sink a few times to get all the dirt off.

Swish, swish, drain, refill. Repeat as needed.

Then I twist off the roots, slice them up, and put them in the jar with the brine. Next, and this is key, I immediately cook the greens in a skillet with olive oil and salt. Sometimes garlic powder. If I don't have time to do this when I come in from harvesting, I'll just leave them in the water until I do have the time. 

It only takes a few minutes, and then I have cooked greens in the refrigerator rather than a bag of dirty leaves. Cooked greens never get a chance to go bad, both because they last longer, and also because they're so easy to throw into stuff--pasta sauce, stir-fry, bacon rice, or just plain with my eggs in the morning--that they get used up quickly.

And there you have it. Pickle the radishes, cook the greens immediately, and I will never again have a problem using up my radish abundance. Hooray.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Return of the Sheep

(I'm hoping at least one of you is close enough to my pop-music generation to start singing that title in your head to the tune of "Return of the Mack.")

A. has been inexorably moving towards getting some sheep for a month now. First he brought his electric net fencing up from Blackrock and used it to make a pen. Then he made a gate for the pen out of trees he cut in the woods. Then he bought some cattle panels to put around the sides of his trailer to make it safe for sheep transport. Then he got his trailer re-registered and inspected.

And then, this morning . . .

They're baa-ck. (Of course that was terrible. You expect anything less from me?)

He went to Vermont to buy five ram lambs. The white ones are a Romney-Texel cross, and the darker ones are a Dorset-Texel cross. (That's for those of you out there who know what those breeds are, and care. I must confess I am not one of those people.)

The sole purpose of these lambs is to eat grass all summer and then feed us all winter. We will not be overwintering animals in this arctic climate. A. originally thought he might sell some of the finished lambs at auction, but now he thinks he's just going to butcher all five of those. By himself, because I will be about 9 months pregnant with Child #4 and in no mood to be dealing with five carcasses.

Though I am not enthused about having sheep around again, I must admit these seem to be quite docile and quiet sheep, in direct contrast to my infamous nemesis, Bonnie the Cotswold. A. also reminded me that I should be thankful he only got rams. No one wants ram lambs around after they outgrow the cute lamb stage. Had he purchased any ewe rams, he would probably have been unable to bring himself to dispatch them in the fall, and then we would be right in the thick of sheep flocks again.

At the moment all five lambs are working away at the overgrown grass in their pen, unwittingly preparing themselves for their ultimate fate. And A. is a happy (if temporary) shepherd once again.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fringe Laundering

I have mostly come to terms with the fact that A. and I--and by extension, our family as a whole--will never be mainstream. In fact, we've pretty much consciously chosen not to be. I am different. I do different things. I love making cider vinegar or tallow or soap; I love foraging for wild food; I love the sight of laundry on a clothesline. I really dislike television, cell phones, buying things, and anything made of plastic.

So I know I'm not a typical American. But I think in the case of my current laundry habits, I'm not only not mainstream, I'm way on the fringe.

Okay, so I still use a modern washing machine (when I start doing laundry on a wash board, then I'll consider myself really 'round the bend). But you know what I don't use in that washing machine anymore? Laundry soap. Of any kind. Not even the homemade kind that I had been making and using for years.

The reason I stopped using it is because Ruth Goodman told me I didn't have to.

If you don't know who Ruth Goodman is (and I'm guessing most people don't), you can find her all over YouTube, and she's well worth looking up there. She's a British historian who specializes in actually trying out everything she can from every time period that interests her. She makes clothing, goes without bathing (instead using dry brushing daily), uses traditional cleaning methods, and on and on and on.

Her interests seem to be nearly limitless, and her enthusiasm completely endearing. She's been in numerous BBC shows in which she and other historians try building a castle in France, or living and working on an Edwardian farm, or a Tudor monastery farm, or a Victorian farm. Or whatever.

I love Ruth. She's just so charming in her own incredibly enthusiastic way.

She has also written a couple of books, which I have of course read. I think it was in the one about Tudor England where she mentioned that she no longer uses laundry soap on a regular basis, because it's really the agitation of the washing machine that gets dirt out.

Hold up. No soap? Like, at all? I was intrigued.

I have, of course, heard the oft-repeated advice to use less laundry detergent than specified by manufacturers. And the water here at our house now is very hard, which tends to lead to detergent build-up on clothes anyway. There was also the point that if I wasn't using it, I didn't need to make it.

So I stopped using it. I didn't tell A. at first, because I knew he would be skeptical and I wanted to try it first to see if it worked.

It did.

Now, this does require using more hot water than would be feasible at Blackrock, but we have hot water here. I actually mostly use warm water, but I do use hot for some loads. After a few weeks of never using laundry soap of any kind, I confessed to A. He immediately sniffed his t-shirt and said, "Even my clothes?"

Yup. Even his. Nothing smelled, nothing looked bad, nothing, in fact, seemed wrong with it at all. And that's been my laundry routine now for at least the past six months.

I do have a bottle of some kind of fragrance-free liquid detergent that I occasionally use for greasy kitchen cloths and so on, because grease does require some soap to be lifted off of fabric. I also use a stain-remover for the perennially grass-stained knees of Cubby's baseball pants. But other than that, just water.

This might not work if I had professional clothing to worry about--A.'s court clothes always seemed to have ring around the collar or grease stains on them somewhere--but our dressiest clothing now is khaki pants, so that's not a great concern of mine.

Now, I am well aware that most people are not going to be going laundry-detergent-free anytime soon, which is of course fine. But it's definitely an option. You know, if you want to jump out of the mainstream and into the uncharted waters of fringe laundering. Or something.

Monday, June 5, 2017

They Got Me, But Good

Yesterday I spent about half an hour in the garden. I planted cucumbers, dill, and filet beans, helped Cubby plant his tomato plant and lettuce plant that he brought home from a field trip to a children's museum, did a little bit of weeding, and got DEVOURED by bugs.


After I came in from the garden I went straight to the kitchen to get to work on rooster stew--Ms. Rita comes through with another rooster, hooray!--and so it wasn't until quite a bit later that I went in to the bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

I had little spots of dried blood all over my chest, neck, and ears. This is the signature of the wretched black fly. It's very disconcerting to inexplicably see blood all over your skin. You don't even feel them biting, so that blood is the first indication of an attack.

The bites don't actually start to itch until the next day, which would be today. And today I have to drive to a city for a 20-week ultrasound*, which means I will be appearing in public with red, scabby welts all over my neck and chest. Too bad it's not winter. Today would be an excellent day for a turtleneck.

Except NOT not too bad it's winter, because it's supposed to rain all day today, and in winter that would mean four hours of driving in the snow.

Then again, if it was winter, I wouldn't be covered in scabby bug bites.


Off I go, bug bites and all like a real northwoods bumpkin, for my big city adventure. Yee haw.

* FYI if you're thinking of going rural: You may have to drive 170 miles round trip to a big medical center for anything other than routine office visits or an ER. At least, I do. Whee.